Category Archives: Sales

Beware – especially #SMEs

Whether you provide a service or whether you make something and no matter how GOOD you are, you need to tell the world about what you produce. THAT means that a large part of your job is Selling!

Whenever I train people to sell, I tend to major on how to get your product or service in front of people and how to turn value into hard cash. A good Sales Presentation IS useful but as MOST entrepreneurs who fail, do so because they don’t distribute or sell their product effectively, I thought that on this occasion, I would cut to the last bit……the very end of a pitch, presentation or meeting  – so that you recognise the signals which tell you that you have hit a brick wall and have made an error during your pitch.

I have many years experience of pitching my company to senior management – usually the Chief Executive and even though I’ve completed hundreds of pitches, presentations etc, I still find myself making the occasional mistake – usually by simply misreading my prospect’s signals.

Here are some phrases which you may have already come across….ALL of them indicate that somewhere along the line, you have made a mistake. It’s by no means irredeemable but you DO have a bit more work to do:

” Leave me your card, I’ll get back to you.”

” I need to discuss this with my partner/directors/ wife/ HR Director/ Purchasing Manager/ Accountant/ Solicitor etc etc.”

” Call me in a week’s/Month’s time.”

“Let’s get Christmas/ Easter/ Summer Holidays etc  out of the way…then we’ll talk again.”

“Write to me.”

“We’re reorganising/moving premises/installing a new system.”

“At the moment, everything is a bit ‘Up in the air’….I’ll call you when  we’re ready.’

“We’ll definitely go ahead in the New Year/ next month/next financial year  etc.”

If you look carefully, ALL of the above are stalling statements from someone who has not been persuaded that he or she has a NEED or that YOU are the one to satisfy their need.

So, if after the first one or two follow-up phone calls, letters or emails, you are still being stonewalled…..move on and maybe come back in a few months.

Remember: There are NO reasons…only excuses and bad sales presentations!

Screw the Interview

Some of you may have read my “How to get to the top with absolutely NO talent” which gives a few tongue-in-cheek pointers as to what NOT to  when attending a job interview.

I thought that it might also be useful to tell you a few other pitfalls – especially as more and more of you will be attending interviews over the next few months (years!).

Turning up on time seems like an obvious piece of advice. Turn-up in plenty of time to ask where the loo is so that you can at least straighten your hair and see how you look after the journey. You know how it when you’ve either walked 100 metres from a train station or walked 20 paces from your car – there is always that rogue gust of wind which messes up your hair or that snap rain shower which makes your suit feel like a dishcloth or washes-away your makeup. Arrive with plenty of time to settle down and convince yourself that you look good!

At some stage during the interview, you will be asked whether you have any questions. There are a couple of things which you definitely never ask about. The first rule is that you never, ever ask about salary, overtime, holidays etc. The function of the first interview is to demonstrate how lucky your prospective employer will be if he is wise enough to hire you. The interviewer needs to know what you can do for his company and not to tell you what they can do for you.

Never ask inane questions about the company.  “How many employees do you have?” Do your homework. If you are being interviewed in an Agency pre-selection interview , you can get away with a few inane questions but remember that this type of interviewer sees you as no more than a commodity.

When you are asked the ubiquiotous “Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?” never reply “In your seat” or any of the other  trite replies which the interviewer has heard a million times before. Start your answer with a “Hopefully..” and talk about working hard and progressing. (Every company will lie to you and say that it runs a “meritocracy”).

You want a job. This job. You need to show commitment to the job which you are being hired for.

Another favourite (lazy) interview question is the good old “What are your weaknesses” question. Yes – even now, some interviewers believe that this is an excellent  interview question. Although it is a rubbish question, you can put a positive spin on it without appearing too clichéd.

The first rule here is not to give that type of answer which attempts to turn such a ridiculous question into a major positive. You know the sort of thing: ” I tend to be too much of a perfectionist” or ” I put in too many hours” etc etc. The only reaction answers such as these will generate is a yawn.

The correct way to deal with this type of question is to think about skills rather than attributes. For instance , if you need to polish-up your Powerpoint skills or have forgotten a few Excel shortcuts, use those. ” I’m a little bit rusty…..”

In my book, I state quite clearly that you should not lie about qualifications but that things such as GCSEs are rarely checked – so what you say about qualifications is up to you. However do not claim anything that you will not be able to bluff your way through or a qualification which suggests that you will be be able to do the job when you can’t.  Lie intelligently. Otherwise you are not-only wasting the interviewers time but your own as well.

Most interviewers realise that you will exaggerate the responsibilities you have in your current and previous jobs – just do not overdo it!

When you are approaching the end of the interview, the interviewer knows that you need to know as soon as possible whether or not you have been successful. The “When?” question is always a pain so don’t ask it. A bad interviewer (and there are lots of those), will sometimes make you believe that you have been successful and too many interviewees spend the interview misinterpreting what the interviewer is saying – especially if at some stage he says “We”, meaning “The Company” and you think that he is including you.

Don’t spend the interview searching for imaginary clues which make you believe that you have the job.

” I need to know as soon as possible because I have other interviews.” is another favourite which practically guarantees that you will not be participating in a second interview or shortlist.

” I really need this job.” or my personal  favourite ” I’d do anything to get this job.” do not convey you as a thrusting “go-getter” – just a desperate loser. (I’ve been on the receiving end of both).  Avoid!

Finally, I presume that you are wearing a suit (both males and females). If you are, make sure that it is clean and pressed and ladies – do not display your chest – no matter how proud of it you are. It can be an unnecessary distraction and in my experience , does little to enhance your job chances (and I’m a big fan!)  – but it is a very common mistake!

Good Luck….and remember the correct mind-set. It is THEY who will be lucky to employ YOU!

Barclays out of CONTROL?

A few years ago, I moved away from teaching and coaching the “soft” skills of management and have been concentrating much more on the “hard” skills.

One of the hard skills of management, which everyone running a department or process should know,  is one which appears to be missing in MOST businesses. It is the art of Business Control.

It is very straightforward: POPS.

POPS is a very simple but effective method of structured management thinking.

If the POLICY, ORGANISATION, PROCEDURES, SUPERVISION Business Controls had been applied to the Banking Industry, we would never have had a financial crisis.

“POLICY” is the high-level control and is the responsibility of the Board and Senior Management. They not-only put together the Policy but their duty is to ensure that everything which happens within the organisation is in keeping with Company Policy.

For instance, if  traders fiddle with interest rates and interest rates have been fiddled-with for years without anyone being brought to book – they may be forgiven for assuming that fiddling with interest rates is part of the bank’s Policy and culture.

“ORGANISATION” is about the people. Are the right people doing a particular job? Have they been trained? Have they been communicated with? Do they know what they can and cannot do? Is there a good Management Structure which can report up to Board level?

“PROCEDURES”  : For instance, is a trade or block of trades recorded and checked? Are there “snap” checks and audits designed to check that company Procedures are being adhered to.

SUPERVISION is a day-to-day control (so is the Procedures Control).  This control is the responsibility of the “one-up” manager. The one who is there not the one at meetings. Very often , things happen without day-to-day supervision. For instance, if a trader makes a few dodgy deals, a good manager’s responsibility is to (at least) make the trader know that he could be caught.

Here’s an example of how a thorough Management Audit which looks at specific Business Controls can unearth the REAL cause of an issue. It is also surprising how many breakdowns and corporate crises are the result of a bad or non-existent high-level POLICY control.

In 1987, the car-ferry, The Herald of Free Enterprise sank in Zeebrugge Harbour and 193 people died. There appeared to be a very simple explanation for the “accident”.   The loading doors at the front of the boat (through which cars entered the boat) had been left open.

However, a proper structured  investigation  designed to identify the Root Cause of the disaster was needed.

The doors were left open because one man was asleep when he should have pressed the button to close the doors. Therefore, the PROCEDURES control had broken down. The procedure was that when the boat was about to move, a button would be pressed on the bridge. That would trigger the man to press the button to close the doors.

The direct SUPERVISION control was  was non-existent because the man who should have pressed the button was managed by a senior man who was only in charge of ferry car-parking and not door-closing.

In addition, there was no PROCEDURE for anyone to confirm to the bridge whether the doors were closed or not. It was assumed that once the “close the doors”  button had been pressed, that the doors were closed.

The ORGANISATION control is about the people involved in the process. In this case, the organisation consisted of just ONE lowly manual worker who, on this occasion, was asleep. The  First Officer who pressed his button, immediately assumed that once he had pressed it, his job was over.

The last Control is the highest-level  – POLICY. This control is administered right at the top of an organisation –  by the Senior Management and the Board of Directors.

One may be forgiven for thinking that there is absolutely no way that such a high-level control could possibly have anything at all to do with someone forgetting to close the loading-doors on a ferry.

However, the Root Cause of the Herald Of Free Enterprise disaster WAS a breakdown in the POLICY control.

The Company’s POLICY was to turn the ferry around in 15 minutes.

Consequently, the man who should have pushed the button was tired because he had not slept properly for two days and was already asleep when the boat had docked.

As is often the case, the ultimate responsibility for the sinking belonged to the management.

Today, Barclays banks has a very similar situation in respect of its traders who are alleged to have manipulated LIBOR for purposes of profit!

Was there proper SUPERVISION? Were PROCEDURES in place to guard against improper behaviour? Was the ORGANISATION right? Were the traders only (as far as they understood) acting within Barclays’  POLICY? Did Barclays have a “SELL, SELL, SELL!!!” Policy which encouraged short-cuts and cheating?

A measured, thought-through approach is needed.

The reaction by the media and politicians already suggests that instead, there will be a free-for-all, accusatory, disorganised  non-process, preceded by the customary witch-hunt and a Lawyer Benefit in the shape of an inquiry.

What is REALLY NEEDED is a Management Audit delivered by a team of sceptics NOT PAID FOR by Barclays.

That is to say –NOT Pricewaterhouse Coopers and certainly NOT those Muppets at the Financial Services Authority.

Publishing Crushed Nuts

“Crushed Nuts on the Cote d’Azur” is published on Amazon and on several other sites and is doing very well thank you – but it has been a long road to publishing.

I have been writing commercially for many years and have had articles, training material and a ton of other stuff published and been paid for it.

However, publishing a novel, as many of you who are reading this know, is nigh-on impossible. Unless you are extremely lucky, a “celebrity”  or have achieved some sort of notoriety, the chances of an agent or a publisher taking you on are near-zero.

As someone who is used to writing a few thousand words and then being paid, imagine how difficult it was to start receiving enough standard rejection letters to wallpaper an average four-bedroom house.

Then, several months ago, I was shocked to receive a letter from a Brighton publisher who LIKED my book. I had done the usual “Synopsis, a few sample chapters and letter” and probably like you, had grown used to the sight of my own envelope (the one with the fold across the middle) containing the unread script with the standard bland agent or publisher letter hitting the doormat.

This time it was different! I had been asked for the whole script!!!

To cut a long story short I delivered the script by hand and was told that they would be in touch in a few DAYS!!

An envelope arrived three days later. Contract? Advance? I was already imagining the Booker speech!!!

Alas, it was a letter enclosing a glossy brochure. Apparently, the publisher had several publishing “plans”. Plan A was very straightforward and consisted of the publisher picking up all the costs. I read on.

The publisher LIKED my novel but would like me to contribute over £10,000 towards the “printing costs etc”.  For that I would even receive a load of beautifully-bound copies of my novel for distribution to “friends and family”.

My Nuts were Crushed!

That was my “road to Damascus” moment. No more letters or calls to posh breathy women agents who “used to work for a major publisher”, no more rejection slips and no more damaged ego.

As someone who understands a bit about marketing and PR with a wife who used to be in direct marketing, we decided “Fuck the lot of them!”.

They won’t be around in a few years anyway and had I REALLY contemplated giving away a percentage in “commission”?

I knew that about HALF of the book market is now in electronic form so Amazon was the obvious way to go.

We had the book uploaded and selling on Amazon within half a day. The BIG lesson that I have learned since Day 1 is that price DOES matter and that the name of the game, if you are an unpublished unknown, is to get your name out there. Use the first two or three novels for the initial marketing but make it as easy and painless for your future fans  to download your book onto their kindle, iPad or PC.

Keep the price below ONE POUND!

Yes, I know that 100,000 words of hard slog seems very cheap but in business (that IS what you are entering!), you have a simple choice:

Low turnover with high profit OR, high turnover and low profit. Electronic publishing is a major opportunity for the latter!! Forget the agents! If your book is good enough, it WILL be picked up by a publisher.

The book “Crushed Nuts on the Cote d’Azur” IS semi-autobiographical and is based in the South of France where I lived for many years. (Photo above is me and  my son in the 1980s in Port Vauban (Antibes) before all the Russian gin palaces arrived).

The germ of any idea for a novel is somewhere in YOUR experiences. I had some fantastic times in the Med and met interesting people such as David Niven , Henry Kissinger, Roger Moore, Michael Caine  and many other celebs.

We went to the Cannes Film festival EVERY year and I used to see the Monaco Grand Prix from the aft-deck of someone’s (anyone’s) yacht. I knew which yachts were owned by the Mafia and which French customs officers were corrupt.

I was offered a job by Brigitte Bardot’s husband and was asked by a well-known British barrister if he could watch me screwing his girlfriend.  I spent a couple of years living on a yacht and worked undercover for a well-known insurance company which insures expensive yachts and ships. At some stage  these experiences ( and many others) will become mutated and appear in subsequent work.

Believe it or not, during those days, I had a proper job and a family!

You may be a  writer who has not had  the opportunity to experience and “touch” life in such a direct way. That does NOT mean that you do not have something GREAT to say. Your sources may be less glamorous and you may consider them mundane but if you are what I call a “looker” – an observer – it does NOT matter.

I ALWAYS carry either a Moleskine or CIAK notebook and continue to be obsessive about noting down phrases I hear or weird things which I see.  It’s almost a curse.

The only practical piece of advice which I shall pass on to you is to be humble enough to accept advice and criticism and don’t be “precious” about your work.

Once you have been paid for something, it doesn’t matter WHAT a sub-editor or editor does to it!

Good Luck.

“Crushed Nuts on the Cote d’Azur” is HERE.

Direct Sales? No thanks!

We have imported many things from the United States – some good and some not so good. One of the most popular American business activities which we seemed to embrace in the 1950s and which is only now dying out, is “cold-calling”. That is to say, knocking on someone’s door and then attempting to sell whilst at the same time not quite hearing the word “No!”. Ask the “God sellers” – the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons – they’re the real experts.

Remember the old encyclopaedia and vacuum cleaner salesman of the fifties and sixties? Then of course, we had the Life Assurance salesman of the seventies and eighties, followed more recently by the double-glazing salesman of the eighties and nineties. Now we have the door-to-door “energy” salespeople who want to save you money by showing how to switch your gas and electricity bill.

“Foot-in-the-door” selling used to be great fun if you were a good professional salesman – and a nightmare if you were not. The more advanced “foot in the door” technique was the “head in the door”  – which meant that when the door was slammed, you could carry on  talking until you passed out.

Our real problem though, is that Brits are lousy salespeople and our natural shyness and inability to close a sale made cold-calling excruciating – both to the salesman and to the prospective customer. We are not genetically programmed for sales. We do not possess the “good” bullshit gene – only the pretend one.

Sadly, direct salesmen are a dying breed and nowadays, most initial contacts with clients are made either by telephone or possibly email. Nevertheless, it is still tempting for some amateurs to try their hand at the old art of door-knocking………..

If you have ever been a door-to-door salesman, what is written below may rekindle some old memories. If you are not yet a Direct Salesman but are thinking about it and have been promised unimaginable riches – don’t you wish that you’d paid more attention at school?

The rust-encrusted Vauxhall Nova with a very old “Tax in Post” sticker rattled past the seemingly endless handkerchief-sized front gardens. The single remaining wiper blade was having difficulty in coping with the solid sheet of sleet that appeared horizontally reflected in the dim headlights.

He tapped the petrol gauge nervously. He’d become used to the gauge reading ‘empty’ and he could now read it to the nearest half-millimetre. Almost instinctively, he knew that he had enough fuel for another 8.6 miles , as long as he did not drive above 45 mph in third gear. The Manager had made him promise that he would knock on fifty doors tonight and then meet him at a pub just round the corner at 9 o’clock.

Unfortunately he had been late starting because he could not find a friendly-looking door. (Only those who have “done it” will understand that reference).

Eventually, after driving up and down six more streets, he saw the door! Its porchlight beckoned to him! This was the one! He was drawn to the light like a moth to a flame. He could smell a deal! He would show them back at the office. At next Monday’s sales meeting, he would be the star. He would be the one who would be handed the bottle of cheap red wine. He would bask in the warm applause of his peers and tell them how he had pulled the deal off! They would look up to him and then it was just a matter of time before he was the top salesman. As he parked the Nova, he dreamed of drunken sales conventions in the sun and paid-for weekend breaks in country hotels…..and sex. Lots of it!

He parked the car on a slight incline away from the house – just in case the starter motor jammed again and wedged the front wheel against the kerb because the handbrake was not working properly.

As he stepped out of the car into the rain, his mouth felt dry, although his bladder felt strangely full. He needed the money! That commission cheque was his! Tomorrow there would be a sale against his name! He was a superstar!

As he stepped into the road, he turned up the collar of his cheap Topman suit jacket. He clutched the already soggy business card in a trembling hand. The combination of the streetlight and the warm glow from the porchlight cast a macabre shadow behind his shambling frame as he bent against the sleet on the short trip to the front door.

He paused at the door, straightened the business card and with a short intake of steaming breath, lifted the heavy brass knocker and smashed it on the peeling door. There was a loud silence immediately followed by a commotion and some shouting. He imagined that he heard something about a “ King Salesman”. Well, he was certainly one of those!

The light in the hallway lit a bit suddenly and the startled Salesman twitched in anticipation. SHOWTIME!

The door swung open and It stood before him.

“It” appeared to be a large biped clad only in a grey vest plus what had once been boxer shorts and It appeared not to have the full complement of chromosomes. It did not speak. It only looked.

“GOODEVENINGIREPRESENTCRAPENERGYCANIINTERSETYOUINCHEAPERFUEL..! choked the Salesman as he tried to control his bowels and wave his business card about.

The man looked him up and down, smiled, said “No thanks. Fuck off” and slammed the door in his face.

Ten minutes later, the merriment and banter in the Dog and Duck were briefly interrupted by the entrance of a young man with crazed-looking eyes and wearing what appeared to have once been a cheap Top Man suit. It now looked like a dishcloth with the collar turned up. It and the pathetic figure it contained slipped and slid up to the bar and stood very close to a man in an Yves St Laurent suit who was wearing a chunky gold bracelet on one wrist and a fake Rolex on the other. He spoke too loudly, having just consumed his fifth Scotch.

“ How did you get on then? How many sales did you get then? Bet you didn’t manage fifty doors.”

The Salesman faced his Manager, melting sleet running down his face and back. He moved one more step forward. He was now so close that he could smell the stale Paco Rabanne on his Manager’s quizzically quivering jowls.

Swiftly he brought his knee up.